Everyone gets an origin story, and somebody doesn't survive Halloween.

Credit: Michele K. Short/FX

There’s a new act in town: Two-Faced Mordrake and the Green Haze Experience, a hip new rockabilly duet out of whatever corner of England produces whatever accent Wes Bentley’s going for. Edward and the handsome face that lives on the back of his head are on the prowl for a new addition to their undead menagerie. It’s never made clear what, precisely, Our Edward does with all his murdered freak-ghosts. Does the Mordrake Circus perform for audiences in far-flung dimensions? Is the Mordrake Menagerie a frequent presence in hell, or Valhalla, or Narnia, or the pit at the center of the universe where lurks the almighty Cthulhu? Or is Mordrake some kind of collector, like that guy in Guardians of the Galaxy who was a collector who collected collectibles for his collection? (I think his name was The Guy Who Likes Stuff.)

Mordrake’s method for collecting involves requiring all applicants to reveal their life story, which doubles as a nice way to get to know our characters. The entire fifth episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show gets stolen at the top by Paul and Legless Suzy, who both get quiet-tough-emotional moments as they reveal the sad lives that led them to this sad circus. Suzy had a spinal condition; the doctors took her legs; her parents left her on the doorstep of a children’s home. Yadda yadda yadda, The Depression; yadda yadda yadda, she killed a man just because she got jealous of his legs. Paul’s story is less murderous, but no less tragic.

His only escape from a life of shame was in the dark of the movie theater; like so many other people who populate American Horror Story‘s dramatis personae, he’s someone whose dreams were shaped by Hollywood. I’m not sure I’ve been so moved by anything on American Horror Story as I was by the kicker of Paul’s story. He tattooed his whole body, but left his face clean: “I have a handsome face. I have the face of a pretty man. Can you imagine this mug on a normal body? I could’ve ruled the world.”

Mordrake leaves them behind, seeking bigger fish to fry eternally. He finds his way to Elsa, still buzzing from the aftermath of an opium binge and from the fortune-teller’s promise that there was still time to be a star. “My talent has been known to render men speechless,” she says. “You’ll have to get over it if we’re going to work together.” Mordrake makes his mission clear: “I am here to take someone with me to the other side. Perhaps you.” She screams that she doesn’t belong here, that she is a normal person, not a freak like the rest of them. The phantoms attack her, grab her prosthetic legs.

And then we finally get it: The Origin of Elsa Mars. Weimar, 1932, not long before the Hitler became chancellor. Elsa was a dominatrix, although she has a better word for it. “In that world,” she says, “I was a star.” She wasn’t like the rest of the whores, she declares; she never let her clients touch her. They said she made men ejaculate gold, which sounds horrifically painful, but Germany.

Things trended downward from there. One evening, Elsa tells us, she went to a very dark room with some very strange men. Drugs; semi-consciousness; a memory of a chainsaw, a memory of legs that weren’t there anymore. They passed the film around Berlin, Munich. “I hear a copy even made it to Vienna,” says Elsa, with just a bit of pride. (Starring in a snuff film is still starring in a film.)

Two-Faced Mordrake likes this quite a bit. The Visage—who’s sort of like the Edge to Edward’s Bono—declares that this, this is the one who shall join their group of merry dead performers.

But then, in the distance: Could that be music?

NEXT: The Origin of Twisty

Because all the eternal variations of Emma Roberts and Evan Peters must have some sort of romance that begins in some sort of strange way, fortune-telling conwoman Maggie and lovable freak-power hotshot Jimmy spent their first date captured by a pair of crazy psychopaths in clown makeup. Yes, this week sees Dandy go Full Clown, as everyone’s favorite aristocrat lunatic dons some clown attire and attempts to put on a show with his new pal, Twisty. Jimmy knocks Dandy over; Twisty finds this absolutely hilarious; Jimmy frees the other hostages, and Twisty finds this rather less hilarious.

Every season of American Horror Story has at least one not-quite-explicable creature, a monster without much agency, who attacks from the shadows and serves no purpose beyond general terror. In season 1, there was the Infantata; in season 2, there were the strange Frankenstein-y mutants lurking outside the asylum; in season 3, there was the Minotaur. You might’ve thought that Twisty was the latest iteration of this near-elemental horror—a force for violence, occasionally controlled by darker spirits but never quite granted any interior psychology.

But when Edward Mordrake chats with Twisty, we discover that nothing could be further from the truth. Our poor Crazy Clown used to be a not-so-poor less-crazy clown, working in a circus in the early ’40s. How he loved the children! But oh, how he hated the freaks! A crew of tough little people started picking on the poor, simple clown. (“I never cared for dwarfs,” says Mordrake. “Power mad, the lot of them.”) One of the dwarfs claimed that people had been talking about old Twisty, said that there had been whispers about him being naughty with some children.

Our poor clown raced South, back home to Jupiter, back to his mother. His mother was already dead; his attempts at constructing toys for the local children were met with general hostility. He put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. “I’m so dumb,” he says, “I can’t even kill myself.” (Throughout this flashback-monologue, we occasionally get a glimpse of Twisty’s uncovered mouth, which sort of looks like a less attractive version of the Sarlacc Pit.)

But Twisty didn’t let depression get him down. No sir! He had a new mission, he explains to Edward. He wanted to entertain the children. He made a funny show for the kids. Their parents were mean—so Twisty got rid of them. “I didn’t make them do any chores!” he explains, plaintively. “I got a pretty babysitter!”

“I have met many a craven killer,” says Edward. “Many a sniveling coward in my time. Every one of them could admit the blackness in their hearts when their hour came.” But not Twisty; he truly believes that everything he did was for the good of the children. How sad is Twisty’s story? The face on the back of the undead nobleman’s head starts crying, which I think was a plot point last season on Grey’s Anatomy.

Jimmy looks on as Edward takes Twisty away with him to his castle in the clouds, or wherever Edward Mordrake goes when the green haze carries him away from our world. It’s not long before the cops arrive, trying to sort out what I can only imagine is Jupiter’s first clown-related homicide case. One detective congratulates Jimmy, calling him a hero. Jimmy throws that congratulations right back in his face. “Meep didn’t deserve to die!” he yells. “Somebody’s gonna pay for what happened to my friend!” So, easy money says the cops are not going to lighten up on the freaks anytime soon.

Not so the townspeople, who show up in droves at Fraulein Elsa’s to thank their savior, Jimmy, the man who took out the Crazy Clown. There’s a line around the block; the show sells out in no time. Bette and Dot are a bit miffed to learn that they’ve been downgraded to a warm-up act for the Pinheads. I’m not quite sure what that means for Elsa’s future; I initially thought that her brush with the beyond had convinced her to stop pursuing her dreams of glamour. But then: A new arrival! For there, on the horizon, is the newest iteration of Denis O’Hare. His name is Stanley, but he tells Elsa his name is Richard Spencer, and he sounds a little bit like Lyle Lanley pitching a wild idea for a monorail. He’s a talent scout, he says: “From Hollywood, California.” Elsa’s eyes glimmer. She’s seeing stars, and the stars all have her face.

Meanwhile, back at the Mott Residence, Dandy appears to have recovered quite well from the loss of his only friend. He’s wearing Twisty’s freaky mouth-mask. The maid yells at him, as usual, telling him she isn’t afraid of him. For once, she should be: Dandy slices her neck wide open. The smile that crosses his faith is one of the freakiest visuals American Horror Story has ever come up with. The clown is dead; long live the clown!

Follow me on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Episode Recaps

AMERICAN HORROR STORY, (from left): Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, 'Home Invasion', (Se

American Horror Story

An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.

  • TV Show
  • 9
  • TV-MA
  • Ryan Murphy
  • FX
stream service